Culinary specialists prove to be “Always Ready”

Photo By Sgt. 1st Class Kelvin Ringold | Seoul, Korea native and culinary specialist, Pfc. Eric Smith, 553rd Field Feeding Company, watches as the judges taste his team’s dishes. During the 553rd’s first annual Iron Chef Competition, Smith’s team won and will compete at the III Corps Chef of the Year Competition later this fall. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kelvin Ringold)



Story by Sgt. 1st Class Kelvin Ringold 

13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command 

WEST FORT HOOD — Whether in a garrison environment or in support of the warfighter, culinary specialists are responsible for feeding the force in the Army. In order to gain experience they can use to support Soldiers, coming up with inventive ideas is paramount.

Culinary specialists from the 553rd Field Feeding Company, 61st Quartermaster Battalion, 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, held their first Iron Chef Competition at the Always Ready dining facility June 5.

“Amid the COVID-19 disruptions, the competition was an opportunity for our team to break away from their day-to-day routine,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Lance Thomas, operations food advisor, 553rd FFC. “We took full advantage of the opportunity to maximize our training efforts. The event was also tailored for team building in support of a strong company culture.”

Eight chefs competed in two Soldier teams and were each allowed one sous-chef to assist them during the competition. Each team was given 30 minutes to prepare their menus, and an additional 60 minutes to prepare and plate their items.

The 553rd FFC’s Staff Sgt. Ontario Alexander, was the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the event. After 19 years as a culinary specialist, Alexander shares a strong passion for food, the culinary arts and training future chefs.

“I want the Soldiers to experience that feeling of competition and display the skills they already have,” Alexander said. “We also get the chance to see what skills we can help them improve on as well.”

Each team received a mystery basket containing four ingredients; red chard, jicama, a whole chicken and radish. With these ingredients, the chefs prepared; an entrée, an appetizer, a soup and a salad.

As the teams chopped, stirred, baked and brought their ingredients to life in the kitchen, culinary specialist Staff Sgt. James Wallace, 553rd FFC, worked the room motivating and encouraging the chefs.

“I have two Soldiers in the competition, but I am coaching everyone because I love my job,” Wallace said. “I can’t help it.”

After the buzzer sounded, the chefs prepared four plates of each of their four dishes for the judges, three portions for the judges, and one plate for display and critique.

Once the results were in, Spc. Fernando Sanchez and Pfc. Eric Smith were the victorious chefs.

Smith is a Seoul, Korea native, and has been in the Army for almost two years, but has enjoyed cooking since high school when he participated in his first culinary program.

Winning the competition is something he didn’t expect, but attributed his love for the culinary arts.

“I feel amazing,” Smith said. “I always like trying out new techniques and recipes, and today it paid off.”

Sanchez is from the suburbs of Chicago and has been a culinary specialist for almost four years, and was glad his team stayed resilient and emerged victorious.

“I am very proud of my team,” Sanchez said. “Not everything went according to plan, but we stuck through and still put out great meals.”

Although only one team could come out victorious, Capt. Aramis M. Brewington, Commander, 553rd FFC, was happy other leaders had the opportunity to see what these culinary specialists are capable of.

“Whether you win or lose, it’s really about recognizing all the hard work you all do day-in and day-out,” Brewington said.

Today’s winners are recognized as the Chefs of the Quarter for 553rd FFC and will compete at the III Corps Chef of the Year Competition later this fall.

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